“Words are just that, I know. But when was the last time you heard an incoming Lions coach — head coach, position coach, coordinator — described as “half crazy”, in a GOOD way?”


Hey, any Lions coach who can invoke Jack Christiansen is OK in my book.

So is any named Gunther.

The Lions’ new defensive coordinator is both. Gunther Cunningham is thrilled to be in Detroit, working with old sidekick Jim Schwartz. He gushed over having the same philosophy as Schwartz (getting to the quarterback, being aggressive, playing limited zone defense) and talked about how the Lions roster, while holey, isn’t a total loss.

Then he spoke to this old curmudgeon when he referenced Christiansen.

Seems Cunningham cut his coaching teeth in the 1970s, working for Christiansen at Stanford. Christiansen is a Hall of Fame defensive back, among the greatest Lions players of all time. And the reunion of Cunningham with Schwartz in Detroit (they worked together for three seasons in Tennessee) appears to have touched the 62-year-old’s heart.

“Now you figure this one out,” Cunningham told the Free Press. “I’m going to the Detroit Lions. Jack Christiansen is in the Hall of Fame and one of the greatest players the Lions ever had. Sometimes you really don’t know what’s in front of you.

“When my wife brought that up the other day, I had some tears in my eyes. Jack gave me an opportunity at Stanford when he was coaching, and I followed the Lions as a young man aspiring to play football. Now to go back to the place he played along with Jim Schwartz is really an emotional thing for me. Maybe this is the way it’s all supposed to be.”

Wow. Talk about playing the karma card.

That’s OK — you don’t see too many coaches come through here and start waxing philosophical about great Lions players from the Golden Age of pro football. Now already two have — Schwartz and Cunningham. Schwartz made his “We need to find a replacement for Bobby Layne” crack when he met the media during the interview process.

So there’s appreciation for the glorious history that used to be associated with the Lions, from the new head coach and the new coordinator of defense. That’s a start.

But what’s truly exciting about Cunningham, aside from the Christiansen mention, is the ferocity that’s associated with him. An unnamed fellow NFL coach said Cunningham is “half crazy.” Schwartz said that, in Cunningham’s world, “It’s always fourth and one.” And Cunningham himself said, “Whether a player likes me doesn’t really matter to me. As long as I have his respect.”

All of that should be music to a Lions fan’s ears.

Words are just that, I know. But when was the last time you heard an incoming Lions coach — head coach, position coach, coordinator — described as “half crazy”, in a GOOD way?

I liked Cunningham’s remark about not caring whether his players like him or not. There’s a lot of Scotty Bowman in there, and that’s not a bad thing.

The Lions have tried the mad man before. He was Mike Martz, the high-maintenance offensive coordinator. But Martz wasn’t half crazy, he was simply crazy. And totally unwilling to bend. Cunningham spoke of how he played zone defense in Kansas City, because that’s what head coach Herman Edwards wanted — even though zone flies in the face of what Cunningham’s all about. You think Martz would defer like that to his head coach?

I have no clue how much better the Lions defense will be next season under the Mutual Admiration Society members Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham. But both of them seem to appreciate where this franchise has been — lo those many years ago — and where it deserves to be, once more. And I’m not so sure that their predecessors have always “gotten” that.

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